Planning to live together

Moving in with your partner is an exciting time, and a new step in your relationship, so it's difficult to think about what would happen if you split up.

Unfortunately, couples do split up. And, although it seems old fashioned, couples who are not married do not have legal protection if things should go wrong. 

Planning on what you both would like to happen if things went wrong does not mean you are expecting your relationship to break down. It is just a sensible way to approach a huge commitment and will allow you to live with the security that should something happen to either of you, or you decide to split up, you are both in agreement on how to sort out your finances and any children you have.

What to think about before you begin living with someone

If you move into a property belonging to your boy/girlfriend, you will not acquire a share in that property merely by living in it for a period of time, even if you do pay the food bills or the utility bills. However much in love you are, you should think about and discuss the “what ifs?” that can arise when something goes wrong in a relationship and think about what you would do in those circumstances. 

If you are planning to buy a property jointly with your partner, make sure you discuss and agree what will happen if one of you dies or if you split up, before you exchange contracts for the purchase of a property.  In particular, think about:

  • In whose name is the property to be registered?
  • Do you want to own the property in equal shares or in unequal shares?
  • What happens if one of you puts in more money by paying a bigger share of the deposit, or makes greater mortgage repayments, than the other?  How will that be dealt with if one of you dies or you split up and the property has to be sold?
  • If you split up and one of you moves out before the property is sold, who pays the mortgage and other bills pending the sale?
  • What if one of you wants to “buy out” the other’s share?  How will the property be valued and how will the valuer be chosen?  How long should the person who wants to stay in the property be given to raise the necessary funds?
  • Assuming that you do not split up and everything goes well, how will mortgage payments and other bills be shared?
  • What happens if you have children and one of you stops working to look after them?  What financial arrangements will you put in place?

Planning for your future

Deciding to live with someone does not have the same legal consequences as getting married. The situation is legally much more complicated and uncertain. So it is worth considering the options below and speaking to a lawyer about your individual situation. 

Declaration of Trust

If you are going to buy a property jointly with someone else, you should always see a lawyer and ask them to draw up a document called a Declaration of Trust. This declaration sets out your answers to the below questions in clear, legal language:

  • Do you want to own the property in equal shares or in unequal shares?
  • What happens if one of you puts in more money than the other? How will that be dealt with if one of you dies or you split up and the property has to be sold?
  • If you split up and one of you moves out before the property is sold, who pays the mortgage and other bills pending the sale?
  • What if one of you wants to “buy out” the other’s share?  How will the property be valued and how will the valuer be chosen?  How long should the person who wants to stay in the property be given to raise the necessary funds?
  • Assuming that you do not split up and everything goes well, how will mortgage payments and other bills be shared?
  • What happens if you have children and one of you stops working to look after them?  What financial arrangements will you put in place?

If you decide to get a cohabitation agreement, you would not need a separate Declaration of Trust as these points can be covered in the cohabitation agreement. 

Cohabitation agreement

You can ask a Resolution member to draw up a cohabitation agreement (also known as a living together agreement), which sets out what would happen to any property, money and possessions if you split up. A cohabitation agreement can cover, for example, issues such as who pays which bills, the operation of joint bank accounts, arrangements for support of a partner who gives up work to have children, arrangements for children in the event that the relationship breaks down, life insurance, gifts made to the couple, credit cards, cars, credit agreements and pretty much anything else which affects the financial and other dealings between a couple. 

You can find DIY cohabitation agreements on the internet. However, be aware that for it to be used in court, the language needs to be legally correct and you have to show that you both took independent legal advice before signing it. 

A Will

If you live together, your partner is not classed as your next of kin. This means that if anything happens to you, they do not automatically have a right to your share of any property or possessions. A Will sets out clearly what you intend to happen to your interest in your home and your money and personal possessions. If you have children, in particular, you will want to make sure that they are properly provided for. You will also want to make sure that your partner does not become homeless when you die.

Although you can create your own Will, if you are not married you are strongly advised to have one drawn up by a solicitor. As the law around cohabiting is complicated, any errors in the Will can cause problems after your death, such as your wishes being ignored or long and costly legal battles for your loved ones. Citizens Advice have some useful information about Wills and why it is advisable to speak to a solicitor.